Saturday, May 27, 2017

Roster moves and injuries

Adalberto Mejia was indeed called up after Friday's game to make today's start. Adam Wilk, the lefty claimed off waivers from the Mets on May 10, was designated for assignment.

Wilk made two long relief appearances in some 16 days on the roster, working seven innings total. It was relatively easy to forget that he was on the roster, and I suspect that he's one of those guys who, when I look at the Baseball Reference page for this team five years from now, I'll think: Who was that?

Maybe he'll clear waivers and accept an outright to Rochester. Maybe he'll be claimed. I doubt anybody in the front office is overly concerned either way.

---

A worse loss for the Twins was announced Friday: Nick Burdi needs Tommy John surgery.

I saw his second professional game, working for Cedar Rapids in a game in Clinton, Iowa in July 2014, and wrote about him (and Kohl Stewart) here. I am fairly certain that if on that muggy, buggy night I were told that the major league team would be in first place entering Memorial Day weekend in 2017, I would have expected that one or both of those pitchers would be part of that.

But Burdi, who was overwhelming the Southern League this year, can't seem to stay healthy, and Stewart is struggling in Double A (22 walks in 24 innings).

Anyway: scratch Burdi for 2017 and probably 2018, at least in terms of getting to Target Field. He was supposed to be a fast mover, but ... pitching at around 100 mph is a cruel occupation.

---

Some injury news regarding established major leaguers:

Phil Hughes is seeking a second opinion on his arm issues. Glen Perkins is apparently going to pitch to hitters (what they call live batting practice) on Tuesday.

My lukewarm takes: Hughes isn't so sure his current issues aren't related to the thoratic outlet syndrome for which he had surgery last year. And I'm glad to see some progress for Perkins, but I'm not counting on him for 2017.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Widening the rotation

The Twins had an off-day Thursday. They have played 43 games so far; their opponent this weekend, the Tampa Bay Rays, have played 50. Nobody in baseball has played fewer games than the Twins to date.

The relative lack of games allowed manager Paul Molitor to sharply narrow his starting rotation this month. Ervin Santana, Hector Santiago and Phil Hughes have made every scheduled start (although Hughes went on the disabled list after his last start). Molitor has skipped a rotation spot at every opportunity and shuffled Jose Berrios (three starts this month), Kyle Gibson (two starts), Nick Tepesch (one start) and Aldberto Mejia (one start) in and out of the rotation and on and off the roster.

That approach is not going to work forever. The Twins have a shortfall of games played to make up in the remaining four months or so of the season, and the opportunities to skip a rotation spot will disappear.

Santana, Santiago and Berrios are the current givens in the rotation. Gibson is the current fourth, and while his leash is perceived to be short it's not obvious who will dislodge him. Sunday's starter has not, to my knowledge, been identified, but I expect it will be Mejia, which will require a roster move of some sort after Saturday's game.

Hughes' ailment has been announced as "biceps tendinitis," which I regard as the current term for "sore arm." (This is not to mock or deny the injury.) There is no public timeline for his return. Until he is ready to pitch again, I expect Mejia and Gibson to get the ball on a more regular basis. I have higher expectations for Mejia than for Gibson at this point. Molitor and the rest of the decision makers dearly want at least one of them to do something good with the opportunity,

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Ervin Santana and the 1.80 ERA

Ervin Santana has made 10 starts this season, going 7-2 with a 1.80 ERA.

Wins are an exceptionally noisy stat, but he had seven wins total in each of his first two seasons with the Twins -- and now seven before the end of May.

More significant is the ERA, which is about 2.2 runs per nine innings below his career figure.

He's getting these results even though both his walks per nine innings and his strikeouts per nine innings have not only deteriorated from last season but are approaching career worsts.

According to Baseball Reference, Santana's FIP -- Fielding Independent Pitching, an attempt to determine what his ERA would be with an average fielding team supporting him -- is 4.10, which is pretty much in line with his career figure (4.22). The 2017 Twins have been a better than average fielding team, but I doubt that everybody's getting two runs per nine innings of benefit.

Well, let's check it out. Hector Santiago and Phil Hughes are the next highest pitchers on the staff in starts (nine apiece) and innings (50 for Santiago, 47 for Hughes). Santiago has a 3.96 ERA  and a 4.85 FIP -- a significant difference, but less than half what Santana is getting. Hughes, now on the disabled list, is the opposite -- his actual ERA, 5.74, is about a half run worse than his FIP, 5.29.

Small sample sizes are inherently noisy, and there are some subtle differences in the 2017 Santana -- a bit more movement on his pitches, a wider velocity differentation between his slider and changeup. His ERA in his final 18 starts of 2016 was 2.41, so we're really seeing a much longer run of markedly good results.

My expectation is that Santana's walk and strikeout rates will improve, which should lower his FIP. I also expect that his ERA will rise. Thirty-one hits allowed in 70 innings? That is not sustainable.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Jorge Polanco, shortstop

Jorge Polanco is
one ot three Twins
in the top 10 in
defensive WAR
in the AL as
calculated by
Baseball Reference.
Jorge Polanco played regularly at shortstop the last two months of 2016. He played the position like a pinball bumper -- 11 errors in 406 innings -- which essentially fit his erratic results in the minors.

And yet Paul Molitor persisted. He saw a major league shortstop in Polanco where almost nobody else did. And so far this season he has been vindicated.

On Tuesday John Dewan, founder of Baseball Info Systems, posted this piece on the Twins fielding improvement this year. 

After a rough start to his defensive career as a rookie in 2016, Jorge Polanco has been looking very comfortable at shortstop so far this season, saving the team five runs. In particular, Polanco has shined with his throwing arm, making seven plays above average in the hole between shortstop and third base.
As if to underline that second sentence, Polanco made two such plays in the ninth inning Tuesday night in the Twins shutout win over Baltimore.

Polanco has not hit quite as well as I expected (which doesn't mean he won't). He has been far better afield than I could have imagined. When you look for reasons the Twins are so much better this year compared to last, Polanco the shortstop is high on the list.
 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Add one pitcher, subtract one pitcher

A bit more than a week ago, in discussing the dominance of Jose Berrios in his first major league start of 2017, I noted in the Monday print column that the Twins had two veteran starters who were pitching quite well (Erivin Santana  and Hector Santiago) and one pitching acceptably (Phil Hughes). Berrios, optimistically, deepens the rotation:

That's the optimistic take, and it assumes not only that Berrios is suddenly a solid major league starter but that none of the Santana-Santiago-Berrios-Hughes combo gets hurt. That's ... unlikely.

Berrios was even better the second time out. But Hughes has since spluttered and gone on the disabled list.

Aldaberto Mejia, who opened the season as the fifth starter but didn't fare well with inconsistent work, returned for the second game of Sunday's doubleheader and got the job done: Seven innings, three runs. Do that every start, you're gonna make a lot of money, kid. He was immediately shipped back out as the Twns gamed their roster, but he figures to be back real soon.

Kyle Gibson started Monday and was SOG -- Same Old Gibson. He managed to both worsen a horrid ERA on the season (from 8.20 to 8.62)  and get the credit for the win. Twelve runs of support can cover a multitude of sins, and Gibson had a multitude to cover. Eighty-six pitches and just 48 for strikes?

Not that he's the sterotypical Twins strike-thrower;




Santana-Santiago-Berrios does not add up to a five-man rotation. I'm not sure at this point that inserting Gibson brings them to four, but that appears to be the short-term intent for lack of a better idea.




We don't know how badly Hughes is injured or even what the injury is. No matter what, he's out of the picture for at least eight more days. Presumably Mejia will get called up again for Saturday's start, although it's possible that they might try to get through with a bullpen game if they don't have to take innings from Adam Wilk and Justin Haley between now and then. If couse, if they do that, the 'pen is vulnerable going into another Gibson start on Sunday.

Bottom line:


  • Gibson may be at a career crossroads
  • Berrios' emergence hasn't really deepened the rotation after all
  • We're gonna see a lot of roster juggling this summer.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Michael Cederoth, we hardly knew ye

Readers with a particularly good retention of what shows up here might remember that last September my wife and I went to Cedar Rapids to see the Kernels and I came home with a Michael Cederoth jersey.

I never actually saw the 2014 third-round pick pitch, but winning the jersey in a silent auction gave me a mild emotional investment in him. Then the news this weekend:



Cederoth, according to Baseball Reference, hadn't appeared in a game at any level this year, and he totaled just 128 innings in his minor league career, none higher than low-A ball. Presumably his career ran aground on injury.

The Twins invested a number of early draft picks in his class on college relievers: Nick Burdi in the second round, Cederoth in the third, Sam Clay in the fourth, Jake Reed in the fifth, John Curtiss in the sixth. The other four remain in the organization. None have made the majors yet, but Burdi and Curtiss have combined for 39 strikeouts and just one earned run allowed in their 30 innings in Double A.

They might make it someday. It may be premature to declare that Cederoth won't, but getting released certainly doesn't help his cause.

I don't often wear jerseys, but I wore my Cederoth one Saturday in tribute to a career that never really got going. Good fortune be with him the rest of his way.

Pic of the Week

Eugenio Suarez breaks his bat after being called out
on strikes during the ninth inning Thursday at Wrigley Field.

Keith Olbermann used to say it on SportsCenter: "A good craftsman never blames his tools."

Suarez, this at-bat aside, is actually having a pretty solid season so far. His strike zone command has improved each season with the Reds, and he's still only 25, so there's a bit more room to grow.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The closed window in Kansas City

The Kansas City Royals won the World Series in 1985. They (or more precisely, their fans) then endured almost 30 years without a playoff appearance until 2014, when they lost the World Series in seven games. They they won the Series in 2015.

We're still more than a week from the spot in the calendar when I allow myself to pay attention to the standings, but the 2017 Royals are in last place. What's more, they deserve to be.

The Twins' Byron Buxton has hit fairly well in May, but his overall numbers on the season are still awful: he has an OPS of .538. The Royals lineup Friday night had four players with worse OPSes than that.

To be fair, two of them (Jorge Soler and Cheslor Cuthbert -- and isn't that a name out of a P.J. Wodehouse farce?) have have just over 100 plate appearances between them. But Alex Gordon (.489) and Alcides Escobar (.438) are foundation players for the Royals. And for that matter, Soler's lack of playing time is because of injury. Only Cuthbert was supposed to be a bench guy.

The Royals bullpen has gone in two years from a marked strength to a weakness, certainly, and that's been remarked upon before. But the hitting, never all that strong even when things were going well, is just as big a problem.

It got ugly again in a hurry in K.C.




Friday, May 19, 2017

Feelin' a draft

A few more mock drafts came across my view Thursday.

Baseball America's John Manuel unveiled his third mock, and once again had a different 1-1. This time it was Kyle Wright, right handed pitcher from Vanderbilt. In his first, it was high school right-hander Hunter Greene; in the second, Brendan McKay, a two-way star from Louisville.

Manuel:
Minnesota appears to be leaning toward McKay, but considering him as much now as a hitter as on the mound. Some evaluators agree that McKay has more looseness at the plate than he does on the mound, and may have more upside as a hitter, but that he’s a safer bet on the mound.
However, the best combination of upside and modest risk is Vanderbilt righthander Kyle Wright, who is the third player on the Twins’ list in addition to McKay and Greene. The Twins have been in hard on Wright’s last three starts, and in his last five, he’s struck out 51 and walks seven in 39.1 innings while posting a 1.14 ERA. He’s showing up to four plus pitches at times and trending toward being the No. 1 overall pick, as long as the price is right.

Aaron Fitt, once a colleague of Manuel's at Baseball America and now with D1baseball.com, posted his own mock Thursday, and while most of it is for subscribers. he also has Wright as the Twins likely pick. Two other mocks, from John Sickles of minorleagueball.com and Jay Jaffe of Sports Illustrated, had McKay going to the Twins, but without specifying a position (first base or pitcher).

To repeat what I said the other day: I'd be a fool to say I know more about these prospects than the Twins do. This is a high-stakes pick, and the Twins have to balance upside with risk, and they are doing their research. The Twins know everything I know about these guys, and a great deal more. I am underinformed.

One piece of information to consider is that McKay's reported velocity has fallen off in recent starts, and he's taken to throwing a cutter that is apparently relatively new to his arsenal of pitches. I feel pretty confident in this opinion: If the Twins take McKay, it should be as a hitter, not as a pitcher.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

It ain't the pitching, it's the defense

I don't know exactly when the team fielding page for Baseball Reference gets updated, but as of 5:45 this morning the Twins


  • were second in MLB in defensive fielding efficiency -- which is the percentage of balls in play turned into outs
  • first in MLB in the Baseball Info Systems metric Runs Saved
  • first in MLB in the Baseball Projections metric Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Saved Above Average


Meanwhile, over on the pitching page, the Twins are


  • 28th in Fielding Independent Pitching
  • 26th in Strikeout/Walk ratio
  • 28th in Strikeout rate
  • 19th in home runs allowed per nine innings
All of which suggests that when you hear that the Twins pitching has improved, you should mentally that statement to the Twins run prevention has improved. The credit belongs to the fielders.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment




No link, no indication of source. Noteworthy, however, for the identification of McKay not as a pitcher but as a first baseman.

---

A few Twins roster moves of late that I hadn't noted:

Michael Tonkin passed through waivers Saturday, indicating that (unlike Danny Santana) nobody thought him worth a roster spot, and has been reassigned to Triple A Rochester. So he remains in the organization.

Normally retaining a player is better than losing him, but I fear that Tonkin's availability might result in him getting another opportunity over one of the younger relief prospects.

Engelb Vielma and Nick Gordon had been splitting time at shortstop and second base with each other at  Double A Chattanooga. Indeed, as of this morning the Lookouts team page at Baseball Reference had each with 19 games at short and 14 at second, an even split.

But Vielma has been moved up to Triple A after slashing ,286/.362/.328 for Jake Mauer's team. Gordon (.317.,380/.472) remains in Chatanooga. This presumably opens the door for each to revert to his usual shortstop position, probably more so for Gordon than Vielma.

---




The AL inflicted the DH rule on itself in 1973 (as my verb choice implies, I'm not a fan), so there are still fewer seasons with it than without, but the seasons are longer now than for most of the time pre-DH and there are more AL teams than pre-DH, so there are more games per year.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Ex-Twins watch: Ricky Nolasco and Alex Meyer

Last summer the Twins disposed of Ricky Nolasco, who over three seasons and 56 starts wth Minnesota had pitched to a 5.44 ERA, His FIP -- Fielding Independent Pitching -- wasn't nearly that bad, but that had been true of Nolasco at his previous teams as well.

The Twins got back Hector Santiago from the Angels in exchange, but to do so they had to


  • throw in some cash to even out the salaries involved and
  • toss in Alex Meyer, once a top prospect.
Neither requirement was anything close to a deal breaker.

We Twins fans are pretty familiar (and pleased) with Santiago's 2017 season. He got shelled Sunday in Cleveland, but even that debacle leaves the lefty 4-2 with a 3.80 ERA. His career ERA is 3.84, so Santiago this year has been pretty much what he was in Chicago and Anaheim: a six-inning lefty who walks a few more than you'd really like.


Nolasco, meanwhile, got the Opening Day start for the Angels and is now 2-2 with a 4.34 ERA. His strikeout rate is noticably higher so far than is typical for him, and for once he;s outperforming his FIP. He's also given up 13 homers in 45.2 innings, which is ... a lot. Nolasco has long been a confounding pitcher, and this continues.

More noteworthy in my eyes is Meyer, the 6-9 righty who never put it together in Minnesota. Mike Scoscia has him in the rotation, and each of his four starts has been better than the previous:


  • April 21: 3.2 innings, 2 runs
  • May 4: 4 innings, 6 runs
  • May 9: 5.1 innings, 3 runs
  • May 14: 6.1 innings, 1 run


In all, 19.1 innings over the four starts and 21 strikeouts. Also 14 walks. He's 2-1 with a 559 ERA (the Angels scored seven runs in two of his outings). He's also had four starts in Triple A at Salt Lake, a difficult pitching environment; he had a 6.16 ERA in the PCL and got called up anyway,

He certainly hasn't cemented himself in the Anaheim rotation, but it appears he's getting a legitimate opportunity to see if he can find a way to use his impressive stuff effectively in the majors.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

A pretty good weekend for the Twins. They took a series in Cleveland and may have found another rotation piece in Jose Berrios.

Berrios's strong outing Saturday was not flawless, but he looked like the pitcher Twins fans have been anticipating for a few years.

Of course, for those of use inclined to see the glass half-empty, that was followed by a poor outing by Hector Santiago, whose ERA rose more than a run Sunday. I'll view that as an aberration until he shows otherwise.

---

Friday is the night college aces come out to pitch, and Louisville's Brendan McKay, the two-way star often projected as the Twins pick as the first overall in next month's draft, had an intriguing matchup versus Clemson and slugger Seth Beer (who may be the best hitter in college ball but is not eligible for this year's draft).

Michael Lananna covered that game for Baseball America, noting that McKay threw five scoreless innings without his best stuff. He added on Twitter:




John Manuel, also of BA, had this comment about McKay as a pitcher:




---

Meanwhile, Kyle Wright, a right-handed pitcher from Vanderbilt, has propelled himself into 1-1 speculation with McKay and Hunter Greene. He threw seven scoreless innings against Arkansas on Friday.

Wright has more velocity than McKay but is not (probably) as polished as the lefty. He's also probably a safer selection than the high schooler Greene.

I think it's quite likely that if the Twins take McKay 1-1, it will be as a first baseman. But I can see any of the three being taken in four outcomes: Greene, McKay as a hitter, McKay as a pitcher, or Wright. And I certainly won't pretend that I know more about the choices than the Twins scouting department does.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Pic of the Week

Mookie Betts enjoys the moment after hitting
a three-run ninth inning homer Tursday
in Milwaukee.

This just in: Mookie Betts is a helluva baseball player.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Reshaping the rotation

The Twins made the Jose Berrios callup official after Friday's game and optioned Nick Tepesch  back to Triple A.

Tepesch was called up April 25. He sat around until May 6 -- 11 days if I count correctly -- started, didn't get out of the second inning, and hasn't pitched since.

Three weeks, roughly speaking, on the active roster with one appearance. We'll see how long Adam Wilk sits around now.

So ... Berrios starts today. Presumably Hector Santiago starts Sunday, then the Twins are off Monday, and that give Phil Hughes four days of rest going into Tuesday. Ervin Santana Wednesday, Berrios Thursday, Santiago Friday ... so the Twins will need a fifth starter a week from today.

If I had to guess who that will be, I'll predict Kyle Gibson, mainly because I expect the Twins want him back sooner rather than later. That comes with no guarantee, however.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Shoulda seen this coming




Earlier Thursday, in my biweekly chat with Jim Gullickson on KMSU, I explained why the Twins were going slow on promoting Berrios. I mentioned the service time issue, but emphasized the fastball command question. I'm not sure those concerns have gone away.

But ... Berrios has racked up a 1.13 ERA in six starts this season for Rochester. He has 36 Triple A starts in his career and a 2.51 ERA at that level. International League hitters clearly aren't teaching him anything.

And the Twins certainly have holes in the back end of their rotation.

I hope he's ready this time.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Another marginal pitcher

The Twins on Wednesday


  • got rained out in Chicago and
  • shuffled one marginal pitcher off the active roster to add another.


Incoming is Adam Wilk, a left-handed pitcher claimed off waivers from the Mets. He's 29 and  has picked up 30 major league innings since 2011 with an ERA of  7.20.

Perhaps all we really need to know about him is this: The Mets are so decimated for starting pitchers that they claimed Tommy Milone on waivers three days ago -- the same Milone the Twins cut loose after last season. The Mets would rather pitch Milone than Wilk. (And for good reason.)

The Twins optioned out Drew Rucinski, gone after one relief outing in which he at least ate up a few innings. Neither Wilk nor Rucinski can play a significant role on a competent pitching staff. They're just filler.

The 40-man roster is full again. While I would rather it be filled with a pitcher of promise, it won't be difficult for the Twins to carve room for one when one is deemed ready for the test.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Can't get no relief

Paul Molitor's bullpen opened the season with five right-handers. Two of them -- closer Brandon Kintzler and Tyler Duffey -- are getting the job done. The others, not so much

Ryan Pressly, expected to be the primary setup man and closer in waiting, has an 8.74 ERA in 11.1 innings. Matt Belisle, the journeyman veteran who essentially inherited that role whe Pressley started throwing home runs with regularity, sports an even worse mark (9.00) after Sunday's debacle.

There is a difference. Belisle has had two horrid outings -- 11 of the 13 earned runs charged against him this season came in two appearances. The rest of the time, he's been pretty good. Pressly has had just one outing in which he got more than two outs without being charged with a run. He's been consistently ineffective.

And, of course, Michael Tonkin has been designated for assignment already.

We're still waiting on the power arms to come up. The question is, how rapidly are Falvine willing to push them up the ladder.

Consider Nick Burdi, for example. He threw all of three innings last season. So far he's been dominating Southern League hitters (0.77 ERA with 15 strikeouts in 11.2 innings). High-end gas to be sure. But he hasn't pitched in Triple A yet, and he might be better served with a go-slow approach.

Ditto Mason Melotakis, also at Chattanooga and sporting a neat 0.00 ERA for Jake Mauer. The lefty has allowed just seven baserunners in his first 13.2 innings. But like Burdi, he had limited work last season and hasn't seen Triple A.

The guy I expected/hoped to see on the major league roster coming out of camp. J.T. Chargois, has pitched all of 2.2 innings this season and is about to start a rehab assignment as he returns from an injury. He won't be up soon. Jake Reed, another relief prospect who has caught eyes in the past, has yet to appear in a minor league game.

All of which suggests that Pressly and Belisle will get more opportunities to work out of their problems.



Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Good-bye, D. Santana

The Twins on Monday traded Danny Santana to the Atlanta Braves for left-handed reliever Kevin Chapman.

Chapman has pitched 55 major league innings the past four seasons, all with Houston, but he wasn't on the Braves 40-man roster and had a pretty ugly ERA with their Triple A club (7.71 in 11.2 innings). He's minor league depth right now, but the Twins have been pretty active even with the new regime with bringing guys off minor league contracts to the majors.

Santana, meanwhile, goes on the Braves' major league roster, presumably in the same kind of play-everywhere role he had with the Twins. They have a similar kind of guy already in Emilio Bonifacio; Santana, I suspect, is better than him.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Up or Out: Michael Tonkin and the missed opportunity

The Twins swapped out another piece of the pitching staff over the weekend, dumping Michael Tonkin (designated for assignment) and restoring Justin Haley from the disabled list.

Michael Tonkin
gave up four
homers in 11
innings this year.

As noted in the Monday print column, Tonkin had more than a year in the major league bullpen, a period of extreme disruption in that bullpen, and never managed to seize a role greater than mop-up/long relief. Remember: The Twins came north last year with Glen Perkins, Kevin Jepsen, Trevor May and Casey Fien as the four late inning arms. None made it through the full season with the Twins, and two two (Perkins and May) are on the 60-day DL and the other two are not on 40-man rosters.

Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Pressley, Tayor Rogers -- they all took advantage of the opportunity created by the upheaval. Tonkin did not.

The "up or out" system, used in a variety of endeavors, is effectively at practice here. The role Tonkin held for seven months or so is essentially an entry-level position. Nobody is expected to make a career at mopup work. A young pitcher gets called up and tested in it; he succeeds or fails; he moves into a more prominent role or departs.

Haley is a Rule 5 selection, and the mopup/long-man role is basically designed for Rule 5 pitchers. Tonkin missed his opportunity. Now it belongs to Haley, and it will be up or out for him as well. His ninth inning struggles Sunday (three hits and a walk in a third of an inning) didn't matter in the context of the game, which was already lost; they do matter in terms of building his resume to move into a more significant role.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Pic of the Week

Adam Jones of the Baltimore Orioles gets an ovation
from the Boston crowd on Tuesday, the day after the
outfielder was subjected to racial slurs.

You either


  • already know the Adam Jones-racist fans story or
  • don't care about it.


So I won't spend my time or yours trying to recap it here.

I just have one thought to share. After Jones made his complaint public, and other African American players chimed in with their stories, the ownership of the Red Sox met with their black players, who told them: Yeah, it happens to us here too.

It seems to have taken the Red Sox management by surprise, this notion that their beloved Fenway Park harbors vocally racist fans. Presumably the owners are cocooned in their suites and well-removed from the trolls of the grandstands, bleachers and box seats.

But as common as the slurs apparently are in the Fens, somebody in stadium ops had to know. At the very least the ushers knew. And at some level in the organization, somebody decided that this battle wasn't worth fighting. It might have been at the bottom of the pyramid, it might have been higher up the chain.

After Monday's embarrassment, the Sox ownership is engaged with this issue, so the underlings will be expected to respond accordingly. And it appears that the message is being heard in other stadiums.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Roster moves and Mauer in the ninth

You probably have heard that Joe Mauer hit a walk-off homer Friday night, his first such four-bagger in his illustrious career.

I checked his career splits on Baseball Reference. It was his 14th ninth-inning homer. He sported coming into the game a .290/.377/.447 slash line in the ninth (a total of 520 plate appearances) with an OPS in the innings slightly below his career figure.

It hasn't been a particuarly productive season so far for Mauer, although, as Mike Bernardino noted earlier in the week in an exhaustive examination, luck ran against him in April. He's hit a pair of homers this week; maybe things are turning around for him.

---

The Twins made some roster moves earlier Friday.

Drew Rucinski had
an impressive K/9
rate for Rochester
before his callup.
Replacing Kyle Gibson on the pitching staff is Drew Rucinski, a right-hander who has 14.1 major league innings on his resume, all with the Angels The Twins signed him as a minor-league free agent after he spent 2016 getting pounded with the Cubs' Triple A affiliate (5.92 ERA). He's been pitching most relief in Rochester. I don't expect much.

They also activated Ehire Adrianza off the disabled list. And they DFA'd Danny Santana, a move that both opened a 40-man roster spot for Rucinski and an active roster spot for Adrianza.

Santana's departure comes immediately after one of his better games; he homered and had a bunt single on Thursday. "What have you done for me lately?" apparently wasn't prominent in the front office's decision making.

Adrianza played a handful of games in the outfield in Rochester, which was a sign the Twins were eyeing Santana's roster spot and limited role for him. Adrianza is by reputation a superior gloveman in the infield but a light hitter -- not that Santana, despite Thursday's long ball, is a particularly good batsman.

Meanwhile, Bryon Buxton sat Friday with headaches after three collisions with the outfield fence drove him from the game on Thursday. The Twins report that he has otherwise cleared the concussion protocol, but we should remember that Buxton had a signficant concussion a few years ago in the minors. I suspect a trip to the concussion DL is in his future.

And Brian Dozier twisted an ankle Friday. He stayed in the game but was pinch-hit for just before Mauer's homer. Upshot: there may be more roster moves ahead.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Down goes Gibson

Kyle Gibson looked good in spring
training but hasn't had a quality start
since the season opened.
Kyle Gibson had another rough start Thursday: Four innings, eight hits, four runs. His ERA rose to an unsightly 8.20.

The bullpen gave up another four runs, but it was Gibson who took the loss and the fall, getting optioned out to Triple A Rochester after the game.

I expect him back sooner or later; he's getting paid $2.9 million whether he's pitching in Minneapolis or Rochester. And the Twins are not exactly blessed with a surplus of starters.

But the new regime isn't necessarily committed to Gibson. I wondered early in the offseason if he would be kept around. The answer was yes -- but with a leash shorter than I anticipated.

Nick Tepsech, nominally the fifth starter, is now the fourth starter and he hasn't even appeared in a major league game this year.

The Twins apparently won't need to add a starter -- assuming they're satisfied with Tepesch after he starts on Saturday -- for more than a week. Earlier this week I laid out a theory on why the front office is in no hurry to bring up Jose Berrios, and as far as I can tell that theory stands.

The most likely next fifth starter, I suspect, will be the old fifth starter, Aldaberto Mejia. But things can change.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

True service time




Last June the Twins used their third-round pick on a pitcher from the Air Force Academy, Griffin Jax, who pitched that summer in Elizabethton before returning to the academy in Colorado Springs for his senior year. The idea was that he would be allowed to meet his service requirement

The edict from Defense Secretary James Mattis means Jax will have to serve at least two years in the active Air Force (he'll be commissioned a second lieutenant upon graduation) before he can resume his baseball career.

I'm fine with that, as I said last year in this post:

My take on the service academies is: The nation has a deal with these students. We the people provide a no-charge, high-level college education, and we get well-trained military officers. I object to the notion that they can/should be encouraged/allowed to walk away from that bargain three years in, with a heavy public investment in that bargain.
The Twins, and Jax, may not be thrilled with this decision, but he's not the first academy grad to find himself in this situation. Roger Staubach (football) and David Robinson (basketball) each had to put in their two years with the Navy before launching their Hall-of-Fame careers in their respective sports.

Jax is not the only athlete affected by Mattis' ruling. According to The Gazette (Colorado Springs), an Air Force receiver named Jalen Robinette was expected to be a fourth or fifth round pick in last week's NFL draft. Academy officials notified Robinette on Thursday that he would not be permitted to petition out of his active service requirement, and he was not drafted.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Ex-Twins watch: Trevor Plouffe

Little tidbit at the end of a Susan Slusser notes item for the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday:

Secret weapon: Former Twins infielder Trevor Plouffe is returning to Minnesota for the first time since signing with Oakland in January. “It’ll be nice to see everyone again, but I want to beat up on them for sure,” he said. “I’m definitely going to relay some information.”

One doesn't often hear that kind of talk from a player, even though getting released by one's first (and only) organization doubtless carries a unique sting.

Plouffe went 1-for-4 in the series opener, an infield single that lifted his batting average to .209, on Tuesday.  He's playing third base pretty much everyday for Oakland, which is a mild surprise given his typical platoon differential and the fact that Oakland manager Bob Melvin may be the current major league skipper most inclined to formal platoons,

The Twins cut Plouffe loose early in the offseason, presumably having quickly ascertained that there was little trade interest in him, and it took him a while to find his one-year deal with the Athletics. While there remains plenty of time for him to turn his stat line around, he's probably not creating a lot of interest in his services in future seasons.

Plouffe was typically handled in Minnesota as a cornerstone piece of the roster, locked the past few years into the cleanup or No 5 slots in the order. (In Oakland he's hitting eighth.) Part of the rationale behind trying to make Miguel Sano a right fielder was to accomodate Plouffe at third base. Plouffe was never, however, good enough in Minnesota to justify that status, and he hasn't been productive enough in Oakland to make the Twins wish they'd kept him.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Berrios Question and the Berrios Protocol

Minor league news item:


The Twins current 25-man roster has just three starters: Ervin Santana, Kyle Gibson and Phil Hughes. Hector Santiago, who was expected back from his grandmother's funeral for a bullpen session on Monday, remains officially on the bereavement list; he figures to be activated for Wednesday's start, with (probably) Buddy Boshers returned to Triple A. That's four. The Twins will need a fifth starter on Saturday (unless they have another rainout before that).

So Berrios, right? Well ,,, not necessarily.

Early in the offseason, before pitching coach Neil Allen knew he would still be the pitching coach this year, Allen laid out a new protocol for side sessions. Every pitcher would open with three fastballs to one corner followed by three fastballs to the other corner. They have to hit those spots at least two of three times before proceeding to other pitches. And, Allen said, the ability to demonstate that command was going to be a factor in promotions.

That stipulation caught my attention. It was part of why I figured all spring that Berrios was not prominent among their rotation options. It may be unfair to call this the Berrios Protocol -- fastball command was an issue for other pitchers as well in 2016 -- but it certainly provides a formal internal reason to overlook Berrios' dominance in the minors.

Berrios is dominating Triple A. That's nice. The question is: How is he dominating Truple A? If he isn't locating his (rather straight) fastball to both side of the plate, he's not coming up.

Monday, May 1, 2017

There's only one way

As discussed in the Monday print column, the two most likely candidates for the Twins to take with the first pick next month are two-way players. Hunter Greene and Brendan McKay are legitimate prospects both as pitchers and hitters.

But when they enter pro ball, they will drop one. It may not be their idea or their choice -- indeed, both have reportedly indicated an interest in being two-way players in the pros -- but no organization is going to invest $7 million and such a premium draft pick in a player on the supposition that he can do both. It's both a health issue and a developmental one.

Consider Greene, who plays shortstop for his high school team in the San Diego area when he is not on the mound. Teens with his extreme velocity -- he's been clocked at 102 mph this spring -- are rare, but they also come with high injury risk. Letting him pitch one day and play shortstop the next -- making throws off balance and from the hole -- only figures to add to the risk.

McKay's injury risk is somewhat less than Greene's. He's older, he has less velocity, and his non-pitching position, first base, is the spot on the diamond that requires the least from the throwing arm. But the risk is there anyway, because pitchers get hurt, period.

The other concern is developmental. Do not underestimate the amount of work even top prospects face in advancing their abilities to succeed in the majors. Again, the risk here is higher with the younger, less polished Greene, but it is genuine for McKay as well. Splitting their development between pitching and hitting may mean not succeeding at either.

Casey Kelly was drafted in the first round of the 2008 draft by the Red Sox out of high school as a pitcher/shortstop. He split his first two years in the minors between pitching and short before dropping the position for the 2010 season. He's a pitcher now -- but at age 27 in his fourth organization (Boston, San Diego, Atlanta and now the Cubs), and while he has reached the majors he certainly hasn't succeeded. I can't prove that the indecision in his teens undermined him, but it probably didn't help.

There are occasional two-way guys in the majors -- Christian Bethancourt made the Padres out of spring training this year as a pitcher/catcher but has since been sent down, and Brooks Kieschnick milked a couple of partial seasons in the majors as a reliever/pinch hitter a bit more than a decade ago -- but they are essentially fringe players. Teams certainly expect more than that out of players taken at the top of the draft.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

Pic of the Week

Rod Carew and David Eckstein applaud after Ralf Reuland,
father of Carew's organ donor,  threw the first pitch
Tuesday in Anaheim.

Much of the attention paid to the Rod Carew double transplant has been, understandably, about the heart transplant, But Sir Rodney also received a kidney from Konrad Reuland, and I'm quite sure that's why David Eckstein was involved in Tuesday's pregame ceremony.

Eckstein, the shortstop for the 2002 Angels team that won the World Series, is a member of a family with a legacy of kidney problems. Stories on the Ecksteins sum the family up thusly: Everybody is either a kidney donor or recipient. 

Eckstein a couple of years ago was reportedly preparing to be donate one of his kidneys to a sister. I looked this week but did not find any stories indicating that the surgery had actually happened. His older brother, Rick, minor league hitting coordinator in the Twins organization, has already donated a kidney to another brother.


Saturday, April 29, 2017

A ping-pong ball on the table of the Twins

Buddy Boshers was one of the last men cut in training camp. He wasn't pitching particularly well in Rochester when the Twins decided to ship out Aldaberto Mejia, but he was on the 40-man roster and he was available to pitch, sp they called him up.

For one day. He flew into the Twin Cities last weekend, worked a couple of innings in a short-start game Sunday, and, since


  • he couldn't go again for a few days and
  • Nick Tepesch was nearing his opt-out date


the Twins optioned him back to Rochester on Monday. He had just one day on the active roster.

On Tuesday Hector Santiago's grandmother died. Santiago made his start on Wednesday. Thursday was an off-day. Santiago went on the bereavement list Friday and Boshers was called back up. He pitched Friday in Kansas City (and gave up a homer to a left-handed hitter, a no-no for a LOOGY).

Bereavement leaves don't last long, and Santiago is to start return Monday, so Boshers isn't likely to stay long this time around either.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Feeling a draft

A new -- to me at least -- notion about what the Twins might do with the first pick in June's MLB draft:




Jim Callis is one of MLB.com's prospect writers, and while stuck in an airport Thursday did a Twitter chat about the draft. The above was his response to a question about whether the Twins would go hitter or pitcher with the No. 1 overall pick.

The idea that the Twins might take Brendan McKay of Louisville is not new; that's how Baseball America projected it in its most recent mock. But McKay is, in college, a two-way player -- pitcher on Friday, first baseman the rest of the week -- and he has been viewed primarily as a pitcher. Callis sees it differently:




A couple days earlier, after McKay hit four home runs in a game:




A John Manuel piece posted Thursday by Baseball America examines why college hitters surge up draft boards every year.  It might help explain why McKay might be viewed as a hitter rather than as a pitcher.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A thought about ESPN's layoffs

I got up early this morning and perused this list of the "talent" axed Wednesday from ESPN. There are, to be honest, a lot of names here that mean little or nothing to me. And a number that do matter to me. I follow baseball hard, other sports only enough to remain competent at my own newspaper job.

Some of the baseball reporters/analysts who lost their jobs, I'll miss. Jayson Stark, Doug Glanville, Jim Caple, Boog Scambi, Dallas Braden, to name five. A few, like Jim Bowden, I kinda wonder what took so long.

There was a lot of wailing and knashing of teeth in my Twitter feed about the layoffs, much of it based on the idea -- probably correct -- that ESPN was damaging its ability to conduct quality sports journalism.

But let us not kid ourselves. ESPN, at this stage of its existence, isn't about quality sports journalism. It's about being a major profit center for Disney. And that mission is in jeopardy today.

Thirty-five years ago, when I first got cable, ESPN was one channel -- a bit amateurish and short of resources, but ernest and energetic. Today it is mammoth and slick. It has consumed ABC Sports, once a major brand. A serious portion of my cable bill is devoted to ESPN and its family of channels.

But it's also caught in its own success. Rights fees to games are spiraling upward, in part because other entities have emerged to compete with the Bristol behemoth. At the same time, people younger than me are a lot less likely to fork out the money for cable. ESPN has been sucked into the media disruption later than newspapers, magazines, terrestial radio and over-the-air TV, but sucked in it is.

And I will guarantee you this: ESPN knows its audience a lot better than you and I do. I find it disgraceful that Stephen A. Smith has a job doing what he does and Jayson Stark does not, and it's tempting to say that that reveals what ESPN values. What it really reveals is what ESPN believes the audience values.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Scratch Ryan O'Rourke from the 2017 Twins pitching plans. The lefty specialist is to have Tommy John surgery. That news came quickly after his consultation Tuesday with the Rangers team physician.

So that's two pitchers who injured their elbows during training camp and needed the ligament-replacement surgery. The first, Trevor May, is also with the team in Arlington, Texas, checking in with the same doctor (Keith Meister) on his rehab process.

---

Eric Thames bounced around American ball during his early 20s, hitting 31 homers in 700 at-bats with Toronto and Seattle. Then he went to Korea and mashed for three seasons. Now he's 30 and back in the majors with Milwaukee and still mashing; he hit his 11th homer of the young season Tuesday night.

And as the Cubs, apparently startled that there might be a good player on another team, imply that he's obviously using, the "random" drug tests seem to land on him a lot all of a sudden.




Thames' numbers in Korea are impressive -- but not as impressive as those of Byung Ho Park. This is what Park was supposed to be doing. And still might, if he can get back on the field and get another shot. I still believe in him.

---

Phil Hughes: Four starts, two solid, one a struggle, one just plain ineffective. Yes, he's 3-1, but his ERA is 4.71 and he's giving up more hits than innings pitched, while his strikeout rate is essentially flat with the past two seasons. It's fairly obvious that

  • his fastball velocity isn't where it was before his surgery and
  • reinventing his pitching approach, with a heavier diet of changeups, remains a work in progress.
Also fairly obvious: 50 percent quality starts is a better rate than we're seeing from Kyle Gibson.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Buddy Boshers didn't last long on that callup. He pitched Sunday -- long enough that he wouldn't be available for a day or two -- and was shipped back down Monday. Nick Tepesch was called up, and Ryan O'Rourke was put on the 60-day DL to make room on the 40-man roster.

Tepesch was apparently nearing his opt-out date. He was putting up better numbers than Boshers in Rochester, and he's a better fit for the long man role anyway.

O'Rourke is making little progress with his arm injury and is to get a second opinion today from the Rangers team doctor. The lefty hasn't pitched off a mound in six weeks.

---

MLB issued a one-game suspension for Miguel Sano.for his role in Saturday's fracus. He's appealing the suspension, so that's in abbyance.

What frequently happens in these cases is that the Twins and Sano will pick a game that they plan to rest him in anyway and drop the appeal. Reading between the lines, that may not happen this time. They may think they have a legitimate chance to win that appeal.

I do find it amusing that the Twins TV crew seems absolutely intent on ignoring the underlying trigger of the sequence of events: Justin Haley hitting JaCoby Jones in the face with a pitch. Matt Boyd at least kept his pitch below the shoulders.

---

Chih-Wei Hu, the Taiwanese righty the Twins signed, then traded as a Class A pitcher to Tampa Bay for Kevin Jepsen in 2015, made his major league debut Monday. I wish him well; I said at the time of the trade that I was lukewarm on it, having already made an emotional investment in Hu after seeing his Low A debut in 2014 while recognizing the Twins need for immediate bullpen help at the time. It was, and remains, a justifiable trade.

The Twins got what they were after in 2015 from Jepsen; he almost got them into the playoffs. He crashed and burned the next year, of course, and he doesn't appear to be in organized ball this year.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Regression

Well, that was a bummer of a homestand.

The Twins went 2-7 (with a rainout). Even worse than the record was the play. The fielding, which had been a strength, got downright sloppy during the weekend.

The Twins have only been out of four games this season, but three of them came in the just completed homestand, including the final two. Sunday in particular was an echo of the dreary play of much of 2016 -- hittable pitching plus unmade plays equal lots of runs.

Some roster shuffling took place: Fifth starter Aldaberto Mejia was optioned out after his poor start on Saturday, and long man Justin Haley went on the 10-day disabled list. Haley is a Rule 5 guy, and his DL time doesn't count as roster time, but he can spend a good part of the season on DL without jeopardizing his status. I'm in no position to question the diagnosis of biceps tendonitis, and he has been worked pretty steadily (13 innings, more than Mejia and close to that of two other starters), but the timing of the injury is pretty convenient.

Up are LHP Buddy Boshers and 1B/DH Kennys Vargas. Boshers is not a good fit for the long man part of Haley's role, and the sudden lack of innings from the back end of the rotation make this an odd time to strip length from the 'pen. The Twins apparently intend to use just four starters the next couple of weeks (there are off days), and it may be that they will try to stretch out Tyler Duffey for the rotation in the meantime.

As for Vargas ...Paul Molitor has been grumbling about his lack of bench options late in games, and that is a genuine issue. But getting Vargas at-bats will be ... interesting.

Robbie Grossman has been a productive designated hitter. Joe Mauer has not hit particularly well, and Byron Buxton has been horrendous at the plate -- and a pair of homers during the weekend not withstanding, Eddie Rosario hasn't been productive either. Molitor could cut back on Mauer's playing time, particularly versus lefties, and give Vargas time at first base. He could give Grossman more outfield time at the expense of Buxton or Rosario, freeing up the DH spot for Vargas. Any of those moves weakens the defense, and that creates more problems for the pitching.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Pic of the Week

A foul ball bounces back to hit
Albert Pujols in the head

An interesting set of numbers so far for the great Pujols, who is, at age 37, clearly not the monster he was in St. Louis.

In his first 17 games, Pujols had a slash line of .203/.247/.319. He also had 14 RBIs.

Ah, you say, he's coming through with men on base. Not really; he's slashing .208/.269/.375 with men in scoring position. That's better than his overall numbers, but not a lot.

Pujol's RBIs are more because he's hitting behind Mike Trout than anything he's doing.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Walk this way

The Twins won Friday night. They won because they scored six runs in the sixth inning, and they scored six runs in part because the first three hitters that inning drew walks.

The Twins lead the majors in walks drawn so far. They aren't doing much else particularly well at the plate, but they are drawing walks.

In 2016 the Twins drew 513 walks, just a bit above the major league average (503). In 2015 they drew 439, well below the MLB average (469). In 2014, they were second in the majors in walks drawn, which was a big part of why they were a potent offense. (They were lousy at run prevention in 2014, but they could score runs.)

The 2017 Twins so far seem fairly good at preventing runs. If they keep drawing walks, they'll eventually score more runs. Lots of baserunners = lots of runs.





Friday, April 21, 2017

Feeling a draft

Baseball America on Thursday released Mock Draft 2.0. This time they have the Twins bypassing Hunter Greene with the first overall pick for Brendan McKay, LHP-1B at the University of Louisville.

John Manuel:

Rumors of the Twins floating deals with several players are circulating, with players as disparate as Southern California prep Royce Lewis to Virginia first baseman Pavin Smith. But the least controversial player on the board is Louisville’s two-way star Brendan McKay, whom the Twins would pick as a pitcher. 
....
Hunter Greene, the top prep player on the board and owner of a 100 mph fastball, has had an up-and-down spring, and the rumors of he and his family attempting to maneuver his way to the No. 3 pick with the Padres are a poorly kept secret. The Padres’ throwing program is more in line with Greene’s program, and it’s on the West Coast, among other advantages. Greene isn’t pitching this week in the Boras Classic and is widely believed to be shutting down as a pitcher in another attempt to move down to the third pick.
My at-a-distance sense on the choice between Greene and McKay is that Greene should be the pick on the basis that he has the higher ceiling. I have seen reports on McKay describing him as a No. 3 starter -- which is not to be sneered at, but doesn't evoke daydreams of a dominant, Hall of Fame caliber starter.

But McKay is also described as sufficiently polished that he could pitch almost immediately in the majors. Low ceiling, perhaps, than Greene, but also a higher floor.




About seven weeks until the draft.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Still an efficient defense

The Twins had a rainout Wednesday and their first truly poor game of the season on Tuesday. Their record has subsided from a 100-win pace to .500. And Robbie Grossman has gone from zero innings in the field to a pair of starts in right.

So I figured it was a good time to check the updated defensive efficiency stats for the Twins. This was the major topic of the Monday print column, for which I used the number listed on Baseball Reference through last Saturday's games. The Twins led the majors at that point, having turned 78.6 percent of balls in play into outs.

As of this morning, B-R had the Twins still leading the majors in defensive efficiency at .763. That's more than 100 percentage points higher than Cleveland, which sits last of the 30 teams, and 17 percentage points ahead of second-place Miami.

It's also, to be sure, a drop-off of 23 percentage points in three games. As noted in the Wednesday post, it's early in the season, and the stats haven't had time to stabilize. I do think this defense has a chance to be quite good, but the continued deployment of Grossman and Danny Santana in the outfield won't help.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

Here's an indication of how fragile the statistics are this early in the season: The Twins gave up nine earned runs Tuesday nignt (and two unearned ones), and their team ERA rose almost a half run,.

---

Joe Posnanski wrote the other day about what he calls "Teddies" -- batted balls that, according to Statcast have at least a 40 percent chance if being hits that are instead caught. (It;s near the end of the longer linked piece, but it's there).

Joe Mauer, with seven, is one of the leaders in Teddies, according to Pos. His luck hasn't been as bad as Nicolas Castellanos', but it hasn't been good either.

If three of the seven drop in, Mauer's batting average would be 47 points higher. Again, an indication of how little weight the stats should carry this early in the year.

---

The news Tuesday that Pirates star Starling Marte had tested positive for a PED was a bit of a stunner. And since the specific substance (nandrolone) is said to be injected, I find it difficult to buy the implied claim in Marte's statement that it was a mistake.

So he's gone for 80 games. Infielder Jung Ho Kang, another of Pittsburgh's better players, is in South Korea, unable to secure a work visa after his latest DWI conviction. It's not looking good for the Pirates this year.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

An all-middle-reliever pitching staff

About the time Kyle Gibson was getting pulled from yet another of his "is that all there is" starts Monday -- 5.2 innings, eight hits, three runs -- somebody in my Twitter feed opined that he'd make a fine middle reliever.

A few innings later, Tyler Duffey wrapped up his day's work: 2.2 scoreless innings. Duffey, of course, was a starter last year for the Twins and now is in their bullpen. He has now worked 8.2 innings this season without allowing a run.

Would Gibson be better out of the bullpen than as a starter? Probably, if only because almost everybody's stuff is better in short bursts.

All of which led me once again to one of my favorite outside-the-box ideas: A pitching staff without traditional starters.

Imagine a nine-man staff, divided into three groups of three pitchers. Each pitcher in each group works three innings at time, and the groups form a three-day rotation. In theory, you'd have nine pitchers making 54 appearances and throwing 162 innings apiece.

In theory. This outline assumes no extra-inning games, no scheduling headaches such as doubleheaders, and -- perhaps most unlikely -- that every one of those 486 appearances are successful enough that nobody needs to get pulled before completing his three-inning assignment. And history suggests that 160-plus innings is a career-sapping workload for a reliever.

So nine pitchers probably aren't enough to make this work. Maybe 11 or 12 is. (Even 12 would be fewer pitchers than the Twins are carrying now.) But there are other problems.

Pretend that the Twins decided to do this. Are veteran starters like Ervin Santana going to be happy working three innings at a time? Do you want to pay Santana and Phil Hughes $26 million combined for 162 innings?

And if you trade your established starters so you can commit to this radical idea, what happens if it fails? Answer: You get fired. And your organization is probably set back for years.

Back in his final years in Oakland, Tony LaRussa experimented with something like this idea, and he abandoned it about two weeks in. It probably takes a manager of LaRussa's stature to try it and not be immediately crucified by the media or abandoned by his players.

Or an expansion team, if we ever see one of them again. The roster compiled by an expansion team should be filled with pitchers willing to take any role to be in the majors, even that of a three-inning starter (who can get a loss but not a win).

Monday, April 17, 2017

Springtime, and the pitching is easy (or easier)

A tangent untaken, or at least not explored, in the Monday print column:

So far in the still-young season, it's tempting to say scoring is down. Entering Sunday's play, major league teams were averaging 4.25 runs per game. (The Twins were scoring 4.73 and allowing 2.45.) In 2016, for the full season, teams averaged 4.48.

But ... these averages are not directly comparable. The 2017 numbers are, obviously, based on early April, probably the unkindest weather of the season for hitters. In games of March/April last year, teams averaged 4.23 runs a game -- almost exactly what they were averaging this year.

The Twins have played a lot of day games so far and have not had a game further south than Chicago. While I wouldn't call conditions so far brutal -- they've certainly had harsher springs than this one -- run scoring will almost certainly pick up as the weather warms.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Pic of the Week

The Dodgers unveiled their first ballpark sculpture
Saturday: a larger-than-life bronze of Jackie Robinson
going into a slide.

Saturday was Jackie Robinson Day -- the anniversary of his 1947 major league debut, breaking the long-standing color bar in baseball and advancing the cause of civil rights -- and the Los Angeles Dodgers marked the occasion by unveiling a Robinson sculpture outside the stadium.

Robinson's entire major league career came with the Brooklyn Dodgers, of course, but his ties to Los Angeles are significant as well. He starred in multiple sports at UCLA -- baseball was arguably his worst sport -- after high school and junior college in Pasadena. (He was born in Georgia but moved to southern California an infant.)


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Rod Carew and his donor

Mary Reuland, left, mother of Konrad Reuland,
embraces Rod Carew , the recipient of Konrad's
heart and kidney.
The story of Rod Carew and his heart donor is, of course, a tremendously moving one. How could it not be? All heart transplant stories are: Someone dies, and someone else gets a new lease on life as a result.

Still, this line from the above-linked Mercury News (San Jose, California) story about Konrad Reuland, then 11, meeting Carew at his school got me:

That was the first time Konrad gave his heart to Rod Carew.



Friday, April 14, 2017

"Not enough ground balls"

Dan Gladden spent a goodly part of the early innings Thursday complaining that the Twins were hitting too many balls in the air. Detroit starter Jordan Zimmermann was getting his outs on strikeouts and pop ups; the Twins needed to start hitting balls on the ground, or so the radio analyst insisted.

He stopped around the time of the Twins second home run, certainly by the third.

Here's the thing: Ground balls aren't that good for hitters.

According to Fangraphs's data (numbers from 2014):

TypeAVGISOwOBA
GB.239.020.220
LD.685.190.684
FB.207.378.335

(ISO is "isolated power" -- the difference between batting average and slugging percentage, or how many extra bases the hits are gaining. wOBA is "weighted onbase average," which I won't attempt to explain because linear weights make my head hurt, but is said by sabermetricans to be an effective measurement of offensive production. My understanding is that the new Twins front office uses wOBA rather than OPS.)

The point is pretty obvious: You want to hit line drives. There is a slightly higher batting average on ground balls than flyballs, but flyballs are a lot more productive because darn few grounders turn into home runs. 

The Twins had one groundout against Zimmermann on Tuesday (4.2 innings). They scored five runs. They had four groundouts gainst Shane Greene (two innings). They scored zero.

I am reminded of a line in "Pennant Race," Jim Brosnan's journal of the 1961 Cincinnati Reds unlikely pennant winning season. The Reds are in a slump, the team is having a players only meeting, and somebody says: If you gotta hit a ground ball, knock the second baseman over with it. 

Hit the ball hard, good things will happen

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Three thoughts

Three thoughts from Wednesday's Twins loss:

* Same Old Gibby. I may turn this into a standard acronym, SOG.

Kyle Gibson was really impressive during spring training, and I started to have hope that his revised mechanics would unlock finally make him a pitcher worthy of the 14th overall pick.

He was excellent for three innings Wednesday. In the fourth his command just vanished, and it was only a matter of time. SOG. Five runs allowed in the fourth, and he didn't come out for the fifth.

* It was Byron Buxton's turn to sit Wednesday -- Paul Molitor has used eight different batting orders in eight games -- and it was noteworthy that Eddie Rosario played center field, with Danny Santana in left.

In previous seasons, Santana would have been in center. This suggests that Molitor has concluded (or realized) that Santana is a lesser defensive outfielder than Rosario,

* In a somewhat related note, Robbie Grossman has yet to play even an inning in the field.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Notes, quotes and comment

The more I see and know of Hector Santiago, the more intriguing I find him.

He took the loss Tuesday, but pitched well (6+ innings, two earned runs). Paul Molitor pulled him after Jorge Polanco booted a grounder to start the seventh inning, but he'd only thrown 84 pitches. (The Twins may believe he still needs to stretch out after his WBC bullpen work for Puerto Rico, or they may figure that as long as they're carrying 13 pitchers they might as well use some of them.)

So he's two-for-two in quality starts.

What's unusual about him is the breadth of his repertoire. He told Bert Blyleven in a radio segment aired before Tuesday game that he's up to six pitches (four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change, slider, screwball, cutter) -- and working on a sidearm delivery that would add four more to the arsenal if and when he breaks it out in a game.

That approach used to be common among big league pitchers, but that was about 70 years ago. Today's pitching theory is more focused on a executing a tighter selection of pitches consistently.

---

A few Twins-related Q&A from a Keith Law (ESPN) chat from last week:

Brett : How many of Buxton, Sano, Kepler, Rosario and Polanco will become above average everyday regulars?
Keith Law: Yes, yes, yes, no, maybe. 

Kevin: If you're the Twins, how do you pass on Hunter Greene? 102 at 17 y/o? Lord. They need pitching, but he gives you two potential players in one to bank on. Also, Falvey known for developing pitchers in CLE ? great match. Kid seems like he "gets it" too.
Keith Law: I think you take him, you send him out this summer as a shortstop, with the plan to pitch him in 2018. Maybe he does something either way as a hitter in the GCL to change your mind or reinforce it.

Jim: Travis Blankenhorn look like the future 3B of the Twins?
Keith Law: You know, I saw him last week in Fort Myers, and 1) oh my god is he huge and 2) he actually wasn’t that bad at third for a guy his size. Maybe he’s a 2b instead, but he can scorch the ball.

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Thirteen pitchers on the Twins roster mean just three reserves for any given game, and Paul Molitor felt a bit constricted as he tried to work an extra run out of their ninth inning rally.




OK. To be sure, Molitor hasn't had to go to the 'pen nearly as often as they were expecting. Michael Tonkin made just his second appearance Tuesday. Craig Breslow has pitched once.

The question becomes: Who goes? Justin Haley is a Rule 5 guy; he either stays or is lost. Tonkin is out of options; he wasn't particularly high on my list of candidates, but he might be the best "stuff" pitcher in the 'pen. Breslow is long out of options. Taylor Rogers and Tyler Duffey are optionable, but Molitor is using them in game situations. Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Pressly, Matt Belisle -- they aren't going anywhere.

My guess: If they make a move to add a hitter, it will be at Tonkin's expense.

My further guess: If they do cut back to 12 pitchers, that's when they'll get a string of short starts.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Yadier Molina, Joe Mauer and the Hall of Fame

Yadier Molina last week got a contract extension through 2020 from the St. Louis Cardinals. He turns 35 in July, and he's been worked pretty hard behind the plate, so this doesn't strike me as a particularly wise investment. On the other hand, he has for a dozen years been at the center of a team that has won two World Series, lost two others and been in the postseason nine times. He's a franchise icon. Pay the man.

Yadi's new deal spurred an internet debate over his merits as a Hall of Fame candidate. I'm a "Big Hall" guy, so I haven't any problem with seeing him get a plaque at Cooperstown, but there are other catchers I'd rather see inducted first.

A guy named Scott Lindholm tweeted out the above graphic as evidence that Molina is a bit shy with the bat for the Hall.




(I will note that I don't see Ted Simmons, one of the catchers I'd rather see inducted than Molina, on this graph. I assume he would be in the upper left quadrant, with the likes of Joe Torre, Mike Piazza and Jorge Posada -- good hitting catchers who weren't all that good at catching.) (Late addendum: Simba is apparently obscured in the pile with Posada and Victor Martinez.)

Molina is down in the lower right -- excellent receivers whose hitting was below average. The further to the right, the better the defense; the further up, the better the hitting.

I'm not competent to defend the Baseball Reference fielding runs metric, but I will say that these graph points make intuitive sense, by and large.

You'll notice that that Hall of Fame catchers, with the exception of Mike Piazza, are all in the upper right quadrant -- good hitters, good defense. The only eligible guys in that quadrant who aren't in are all in the corner next to the intersection of average: Bill Freehan, Thuman Munson, Sherm Lollar.

And notice that X up there between Yogi Berra and Johnny Bench. That X signifies an active player, and it's Joe Mauer.

Mauer, in my view, did the heavy lifting for the Hall in his 20s. His 30s have been a letdown, and, of course, he will never catch again. And he's not likely to compile the big bulk numbers the voters seem to demand of hitters. A lot of people believe Mauer will fall short of the Hall, and they might be right.

But the generation of voters who would be likely to turn thumbs down on Mauer for lacking the home runs and RBIs of the HOF catchers represented in this graphic is dwindling. The percentage of the electorate that embrace B-R's metrics is only going to rise.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Love the glove

Two runs a game.

Six games into the 2017 season, that's what the Twins opponents are averaging. Two measly runs per game.

Six games isn't much; it's two series, and one of those series was against a team that went into teardown mode this winter (the Chicago White Sox). Minnesota's 5-1 record may prove a mirage. But what we've seen so far is a far cry from the pitching-and-defense ineptitude of 2016.

That the outfield is impressing afield shouldn't be a surprise. Nothing falls but raindrops is supposedly their mantra, and they are living up to it. (Those calling for Byron Buxton to hit the bench over his struggles at the plate should remember: Were Danny Santana playing center field on Friday, Phil Hughes probably doesn't get out of the first inning.)

But Jorge Polanco has been far better at shortstop than I expected. Miguel Sano had a rough game Saturday at third -- two errors, one on a botched rundown that directly resulted in a run -- but other than that, the infield defense has also been superb.

If this pattern of stellar defense continues, 5-1 may not be a mirage.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Pic of the Week

Yadier Molina had enough stickum on his chest protector
to defy gravity Thursday.

Despite the smile on Yadier Molina's face, this was a significant play in the winning rally by the Chicago Cubs on Thursday. Molina missed a bounced strike three in the seventh inning, then couldn't find the ball because it clung to his chest protector. That bizarre play was followed by a three-run homer

Molina belittled reporters after the game for asking about the sticky stuff on his equipment, but there's one obvious reason to have so much of it that a ball can't drop off: So that he can load balls with a foreign substance to aid his pitchers. This is hardly unheard of for catchers; Jim Bouton in Ball Four discribed various ways Elston Howard scuffed balls for Whitey Ford back in the 1960s.

MLB, it was reported Friday night, has decided not to discipline Molina. I don't get it. Maybe the loss was deemed punishment enough.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Miguel Sano, 1B, and other bench thoughts

Paul Molitor has deployed four different lineups in four games. Last night's lineup not only got Chris Gimenez his first start behind the plate, but featured Miguel Sano at first base, a position he is not believed to have worked at even once during spring training.

Molitor himself donned a glove during the pregame warmups to supervise Sano taking grounders and throws at first.

The expectation in March had been that either Byung Ho Park or Kennys Vargas would be on the roster as the DH and backup first baseman. When they were both sent to Triple A Rochester, my expectation was that Max Kepler would be the first baseman when Joe Mauer sat.

There are advantages to shifting Sano to first rather than Kepler. The main one is that it gives Eduardo Escobar a chance to play (at third). Of the three reserves (Escobar, Gimenez and Danny Santana), Escobar is pretty clearly the one who with the best chance at being a productive regular.

Kepler -- a better outfielder than Santana or primary designated hitter Robbie Grossman -- made a nice catch in right Friday night. Sano doubled home the run that put the Twins up for good and didn't obviously mess up any plays at first. Escobar walked, singled and scored a run. Even Gimenez doubled.

So Friday's lineup shuffle worked marvelously for Molitor, and the Twins are 4-0.